Glass cockpit

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Simplified glass cockpit of an Airbus A220, featuring unified LCD screens for both pilots to reduce pilot workload AirBaltic Bombardier CS300 launch event (31581897816).jpg
Simplified glass cockpit of an Airbus A220, featuring unified LCD screens for both pilots to reduce pilot workload

A glass cockpit is an aircraft cockpit that features an array of electronic (digital) flight instrument displays, typically large LCD screens, rather than traditional analog dials and gauges. [1] While a traditional cockpit relies on numerous mechanical gauges (nicknamed "steam gauges") to display information, a glass cockpit uses several multi-function displays and a primary flight display driven by flight management systems, that can be adjusted to show flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinent information. They are also popular with airline companies as they usually eliminate the need for a flight engineer, saving costs. In recent[ when? ] years the technology has also become widely available in small aircraft.


As aircraft displays have modernized, the sensors that feed them have modernized as well. Traditional gyroscopic flight instruments have been replaced by electronic attitude and heading reference systems (AHRS) and air data computers (ADCs), improving reliability and reducing cost and maintenance. GPS receivers are usually integrated into glass cockpits.

Airbus A380 glass cockpit featuring "pull out keyboards and two wide computer screens on the sides for pilots" Airbus A380 cockpit.jpg
Airbus A380 glass cockpit featuring "pull out keyboards and two wide computer screens on the sides for pilots"

Early glass cockpits, found in the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, Boeing 737 Classic, ATR 42, ATR 72 and in the Airbus A300-600 and A310, used electronic flight instrument systems (EFIS) to display attitude and navigational information only, with traditional mechanical gauges retained for airspeed, altitude, vertical speed, and engine performance. The Boeing 757 and 767-200/-300 introduced an electronic engine-indicating and crew-alerting system (EICAS) for monitoring engine performance while retaining mechanical gauges for airspeed, altitude and vertical speed.

Later glass cockpits, found in the Boeing 737NG, 747-400, 767-400, 777, Airbus A320, later Airbuses, Ilyushin Il-96 and Tupolev Tu-204 have completely replaced the mechanical gauges and warning lights in previous generations of aircraft. While glass cockpit-equipped aircraft throughout the late 20th century still retained analog altimeters, attitude, and airspeed indicators as standby instruments in case the EFIS displays failed, more modern aircraft have increasingly been using digital standby instruments as well, such as the integrated standby instrument system.


C-5A Cockpit.jpg
Analog instrument panel of a C-5A
C-5M Cockpit.jpg
Upgraded "glass" C-5M instrument panel

Glass cockpits originated in military aircraft in the late 1960s and early 1970s; an early example is the Mark II avionics of the F-111D (first ordered in 1967, delivered from 1970 to 1973), which featured a multi-function display.

Prior to the 1970s, air transport operations were not considered sufficiently demanding to require advanced equipment like electronic flight displays. Also, computer technology was not at a level where sufficiently light and powerful electronics were available. The increasing complexity of transport aircraft, the advent of digital systems and the growing air traffic congestion around airports began to change that.

The Boeing 2707 was one of the earliest commercial aircraft designed with a glass cockpit. Most cockpit instruments were still analog, but cathode ray tube (CRT) displays were to be used for the attitude indicator and horizontal situation indicator (HSI). However, the 2707 was cancelled in 1971 after insurmountable technical difficulties and ultimately the end of project funding by the US government.

The average transport aircraft in the mid-1970s had more than one hundred cockpit instruments and controls, and the primary flight instruments were already crowded with indicators, crossbars, and symbols, and the growing number of cockpit elements were competing for cockpit space and pilot attention. [3] As a result, NASA conducted research on displays that could process the raw aircraft system and flight data into an integrated, easily understood picture of the flight situation, culminating in a series of flights demonstrating a full glass cockpit system.

The success of the NASA-led glass cockpit work is reflected in the total acceptance of electronic flight displays. The safety and efficiency of flights have been increased with improved pilot understanding of the aircraft's situation relative to its environment (or "situational awareness").

By the end of the 1990s, liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels were increasingly favored among aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability and legibility. Earlier LCD panels suffered from poor legibility at some viewing angles and poor response times, making them unsuitable for aviation. Modern aircraft such as the Boeing 737 Next Generation, 777, 717, 747-400ER, 747-8F 767-400ER, 747-8, and 787, Airbus A320 family (later versions), A330 (later versions), A340-500/600, A340-300 (later versions), A380 and A350 are fitted with glass cockpits consisting of LCD units. [4]

Glass cockpit in a Cirrus SR22. Note the three analog standby instruments near the bottom of the main instrument panel. SR22TN Perspective Cockpit.jpg
Glass cockpit in a Cirrus SR22. Note the three analog standby instruments near the bottom of the main instrument panel.

The glass cockpit has become standard equipment in airliners, business jets, and military aircraft. It was fitted into NASA's Space Shuttle orbiters Atlantis, Columbia, Discovery, and Endeavour, and the Russian Soyuz TMA model spacecraft that were launched for the first time in 2002. By the end of the century glass cockpits began appearing in general aviation aircraft as well. In 2003, Cirrus Design's SR20 and SR22 became the first light aircraft equipped with glass cockpits, which they made standard on all Cirrus aircraft. By 2005, even basic trainers like the Piper Cherokee and Cessna 172 were shipping with glass cockpits as options (which nearly all customers chose), as well as many modern utility aircraft such as the Diamond DA42. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II features a "panoramic cockpit display" touchscreen that replaces most of the switches and toggles found in an aircraft cockpit. The civilian Cirrus Vision SF50 has the same, which they call a "Perspective Touch" glass cockpit.


Commercial aviation

Sukhoi Superjet 100 glass cockpit 15-07-14-Suchoj-Superjet-100-RalfR-WMA 0547-0550.jpg
Sukhoi Superjet 100 glass cockpit

Unlike the previous era of glass cockpits—where designers merely copied the look and feel of conventional electromechanical instruments onto cathode ray tubes—the new displays represent a true departure. They look and behave very similarly to other computers, with windows and data that can be manipulated with point-and-click devices. They also add terrain, approach charts, weather, vertical displays, and 3D navigation images.

The improved concepts enable aircraft makers to customize cockpits to a greater degree than previously. All of the manufacturers involved have chosen to do so in one way or another—such as using a trackball, thumb pad or joystick as a pilot-input device in a computer-style environment. Many of the modifications offered by the aircraft manufacturers improve situational awareness and customize the human-machine interface to increase safety.

Modern glass cockpits might include synthetic vision systems (SVS) or enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS). Synthetic vision systems display a realistic 3D depiction of the outside world (similar to a flight simulator), based on a database of terrain and geophysical features in conjunction with the attitude and position information gathered from the aircraft navigational systems. Enhanced flight vision systems add real-time information from external sensors, such as an infrared camera.

All new airliners such as the Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and private jets such as Bombardier Global Express and Learjet use glass cockpits.

General aviation

Garmin G1000 in a Cessna 182 Cessna T182T Cockpit - Garmin G1000.jpg
Garmin G1000 in a Cessna 182

Many modern general aviation aircraft are available with glass cockpits. Systems such as the Garmin G1000 are now available on many new GA aircraft, including the classic Cessna 172. Many small aircraft can also be modified post-production to replace analogue instruments.

Glass cockpits are also popular as a retrofit for older private jets and turboprops such as Dassault Falcons, Raytheon Hawkers, Bombardier Challengers, Cessna Citations, Gulfstreams, King Airs, Learjets, Astras, and many others. Aviation service companies work closely with equipment manufacturers to address the needs of the owners of these aircraft.

Consumer, research, hobby & recreational aviation

Today, smartphones and tablets use mini-applications, or "apps", to remotely control complex devices, by WiFi radio interface. They demonstrate how the "glass cockpit" idea is being applied to consumer devices. Applications include toy-grade UAVs which use the display and touch screen of a tablet or smartphone to employ every aspect of the "glass cockpit" for instrument display, and fly-by-wire for aircraft control.


The Space Shuttle glass cockpit STSCPanel.jpg
The Space Shuttle glass cockpit

The glass cockpit idea made news in 1980s trade magazines, like Aviation Week & Space Technology , when NASA announced that it would be replacing most of the electro-mechanical flight instruments in the space shuttles with glass cockpit components. The articles mentioned how glass cockpit components had the added benefit of being a few hundred pounds lighter than the original flight instruments and support systems used in the Space Shuttles. The Space Shuttle Atlantis was the first orbiter to be retrofitted with a glass cockpit in 2000 with the launch of STS-101. Columbia was the second orbiter with a glass cockpit on STS-109 in 2002, followed by Discovery in 2005 with STS-114, and Endeavour in 2007 with STS-118.

NASA's Orion spacecraft will use glass cockpits derived from Boeing 787 Dreamliner. [5]


As aircraft operation depends on glass cockpit systems, flight crews must be trained to deal with failures. The Airbus A320 family has seen fifty incidents where several flight displays were lost. [6]

On 25 January 2008, United Airlines Flight 731 experienced a serious glass-cockpit blackout, losing half of the Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) displays as well as all radios, transponders, Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), and attitude indicators. [7] The pilots were able to land at Newark Airport without radio contact in good weather and daylight conditions.

Airbus has offered an optional fix, which the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has suggested to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as mandatory, but the FAA has yet to make it a requirement. [8] [ dubious ] A preliminary NTSB factsheet is available. [9] Due to the possibility of a blackout, glass cockpit aircraft also have an integrated standby instrument system that includes (at a minimum) an artificial horizon, altimeter and airspeed indicator. It is electronically separate from the main instruments and can run for several hours on a backup battery.

In 2010, the NTSB published a study done on 8,000 general aviation light aircraft. The study found that, although aircraft equipped with glass cockpits had a lower overall accident rate, they also had a larger chance of being involved in a fatal accident. [9] The NTSB Chairman said in response to the study: [10]

Training is clearly one of the key components to reducing the accident rate of light planes equipped with glass cockpits, and this study clearly demonstrates the life and death importance of appropriate training on these complex systems... While the technological innovations and flight management tools that glass cockpit-equipped airplanes bring to the general aviation community should reduce the number of fatal accidents, we have not—unfortunately—seen that happen.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flight instruments</span> Instruments in an aircrafts cockpit which provide the pilot with crucial information during flight

Flight instruments are the instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft that provide the pilot with data about the flight situation of that aircraft, such as altitude, airspeed, vertical speed, heading and much more other crucial information in flight. They improve safety by allowing the pilot to fly the aircraft in level flight, and make turns, without a reference outside the aircraft such as the horizon. Visual flight rules (VFR) require an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, and a compass or other suitable magnetic direction indicator. Instrument flight rules (IFR) additionally require a gyroscopic pitch-bank, direction and rate of turn indicator, plus a slip-skid indicator, adjustable altimeter, and a clock. Flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) require radio navigation instruments for precise takeoffs and landings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cockpit</span> Area from which a pilot controls an aircraft or vehicle

A cockpit or flight deck is the area, on the front part of an aircraft or spacecraft, from which a pilot controls the aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Attitude indicator</span> Flight instrument which displays the aircrafts orientation relative to Earths horizon

The attitude indicator (AI), formerly known as the gyro horizon or artificial horizon, is a flight instrument that informs the pilot of the aircraft orientation relative to Earth's horizon, and gives an immediate indication of the smallest orientation change. The miniature aircraft and horizon bar mimic the relationship of the aircraft relative to the actual horizon. It is a primary instrument for flight in instrument meteorological conditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Head-up display</span> Transparent display presenting data within normal sight lines of the user

A head-up display, or heads-up display, also known as a HUD or head-up guidance system (HGS), is any transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. The origin of the name stems from a pilot being able to view information with the head positioned "up" and looking forward, instead of angled down looking at lower instruments. A HUD also has the advantage that the pilot's eyes do not need to refocus to view the outside after looking at the optically nearer instruments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multi-function display</span> Small screen surrounded by multiple soft keys

A multifunction display (MFD) is a small-screen surrounded by multiple soft keys that can be used to display information to the user in numerous configurable ways. MFDs originated in aviation, first in military aircraft, and later were adopted by commercial aircraft, general aviation, automotive use, and shipboard use.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Instrument landing system localizer</span> Horizontal guidance system

An instrument landing system localizer, or simply localizer, is a system of horizontal guidance in the instrument landing system, which is used to guide aircraft along the axis of the runway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Engine-indicating and crew-alerting system</span> Type of alert system on aircraft

An engine-indicating and crew-alerting system (EICAS) is an integrated system used in modern aircraft to provide aircraft flight crew with instrumentation and crew annunciations for aircraft engines and other systems. On EICAS equipped aircraft the "recommended remedial action" is called a checklist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic flight instrument system</span> Display system in an aircrafts cockpit which displays flight information electronically

In aviation, an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) is a flight instrument display system in an aircraft cockpit that displays flight data electronically rather than electromechanically. An EFIS normally consists of a primary flight display (PFD), multi-function display (MFD), and an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) display. Early EFIS models used cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, but liquid crystal displays (LCD) are now more common. The complex electromechanical attitude director indicator (ADI) and horizontal situation indicator (HSI) were the first candidates for replacement by EFIS. Now, however, few flight deck instruments cannot be replaced by an electronic display.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Garmin G1000</span> Electronic flight instrument system

The Garmin G1000 is an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) typically composed of two display units, one serving as a primary flight display, and one as a multi-function display. Manufactured by Garmin Aviation, it serves as a replacement for most conventional flight instruments and avionics. Introduced in June 2004, the system has since become one of the most popular integrated glass cockpit solutions for general aviation and business aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pitot–static system</span> System of pressure-sensitive instruments used to determine an aircrafts speed, altitude, etc.

A pitot–static system is a system of pressure-sensitive instruments that is most often used in aviation to determine an aircraft's airspeed, Mach number, altitude, and altitude trend. A pitot–static system generally consists of a pitot tube, a static port, and the pitot–static instruments. Other instruments that might be connected are air data computers, flight data recorders, altitude encoders, cabin pressurization controllers, and various airspeed switches. Errors in pitot–static system readings can be extremely dangerous as the information obtained from the pitot static system, such as altitude, is potentially safety-critical. Several commercial airline disasters have been traced to a failure of the pitot–static system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Primary flight display</span> Modern aircraft instrument

A primary flight display or PFD is a modern aircraft instrument dedicated to flight information. Much like multi-function displays, primary flight displays are built around a Liquid-crystal display or CRT display device. Representations of older six pack or "steam gauge" instruments are combined on one compact display, simplifying pilot workflow and streamlining cockpit layouts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">China Airlines Flight 006</span> Aviation accident

China Airlines Flight 006 was a daily non-stop flight from Taipei to Los Angeles International Airport. On February 19, 1985, the Boeing 747SP operating the flight was involved in an aircraft upset accident, following the failure of the No. 4 engine, while cruising at 41,000 ft (12,500 m). The plane rolled over and plunged 30,000 ft (9,100 m), experiencing high speeds and g-forces before the captain was able to recover from the dive, and then to divert to San Francisco International Airport.

An Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU) is a key component of the integrated Air Data Inertial Reference System (ADIRS), which supplies air data and inertial reference information to the pilots' electronic flight instrument system displays as well as other systems on the aircraft such as the engines, autopilot, aircraft flight control system and landing gear systems. An ADIRU acts as a single, fault tolerant source of navigational data for both pilots of an aircraft. It may be complemented by a secondary attitude air data reference unit (SAARU), as in the Boeing 777 design.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic centralised aircraft monitor</span> Avionics system developed by Airbus

An electronic centralised aircraft monitoring (ECAM) or electronic centralized aircraft monitoring is a system that monitors aircraft functions and relays them to the pilots. It also produces messages detailing failures and in certain cases, lists procedures to undertake to correct the problem.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">KLM Flight 867</span> 1989 aircraft incident

On 15 December 1989, KLM Flight 867, en route from Amsterdam to Narita International Airport Tokyo, was forced to make an emergency landing at Anchorage International Airport, Alaska, when all four engines failed. The Boeing 747-406M, less than six months old at the time, flew through a thick cloud of volcanic ash from Mount Redoubt, which had erupted the day before.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">China Airlines Flight 605</span> 1993 aviation accident

China Airlines Flight 605 was a daily non-stop flight departing from Taipei at 6:30 a.m. and arriving at Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong at 7:00 a.m. local time. On November 4, 1993, the plane went off the runway and overran while landing during a storm. It was the first hull loss of a Boeing 747-400.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flight envelope protection</span>

Flight envelope protection is a human machine interface extension of an aircraft's control system that prevents the pilot of an aircraft from making control commands that would force the aircraft to exceed its structural and aerodynamic operating limits. It is used in some form in all modern commercial fly-by-wire aircraft. The professed advantage of flight envelope protection systems is that they restrict a pilot's excessive control inputs, whether in surprise reaction to emergencies or otherwise, from translating into excessive flight control surface movements. Notionally, this allows pilots to react quickly to an emergency while blunting the effect of an excessive control input resulting from "startle," by electronically limiting excessive control surface movements that could over-stress the airframe and endanger the safety of the aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flight control modes</span> Aircraft control computer software

A flight control mode or flight control law is a computer software algorithm that transforms the movement of the yoke or joystick, made by an aircraft pilot, into movements of the aircraft control surfaces. The control surface movements depend on which of several modes the flight computer is in. In aircraft in which the flight control system is fly-by-wire, the movements the pilot makes to the yoke or joystick in the cockpit, to control the flight, are converted to electronic signals, which are transmitted to the flight control computers that determine how to move each control surface to provide the aircraft movement the pilot ordered.

An integrated standby instrument system (ISIS) is an electronic aircraft instrument. It is intended to serve as backup in case of a failure of the standard glass cockpit instrumentation, allowing pilots to continue to receive key flight-related information. Prior to the use of ISIS, this was performed by individual redundant mechanical instrumentation instead. Such systems have become common to be installed in various types of aircraft, ranging from airliners to helicopters and smaller general aviation aircraft. While it is common for new-built aircraft to be outfitted with ISIS, numerous operators have opted to have their fleets retrofitted with such apparatus as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Air Canada Flight 759</span> 2017 aviation incident

On July 7, 2017, an Airbus A320-211 operating as Air Canada Flight 759 was nearly involved in an accident at San Francisco International Airport in San Mateo County, California, United States. The flight, which originated at Toronto Pearson International Airport, had been cleared by air traffic control to land on runway 28R and was on final approach to land on that runway; however, instead of lining up with the runway, the aircraft had lined up with the parallel taxiway, on which four fully loaded and fueled passenger airplanes were stopped awaiting takeoff clearance. The flight crew initiated a go-around prior to landing, after which it landed on 28R without further incident. The aircraft on the taxiway departed for their intended destinations without further incident. The subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the Air Canada airplane descended to 59 feet (18 m) above the ground before it began its climb, and that it missed colliding with one of the aircraft on the taxiway by 14 feet (4.3 m).


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